It’s taken years, but it finally looks like there’s a sliver of hope for those of us who want the NRL to enforce stronger on-field punishment for high contact.
And as usual, it’s kicking up a hell of a debate.
Cronulla Sharks forward Siosifa Talakai was sent to the sin bin by referee Chris Butler for a monster hit on Bulldogs forward Matt Doorey during the first half on Saturday.
Talakai has subsequently been given a grade three charge by the match review committee and faces a six-week ban, early plea gets him four.
Whatever your opinion on whether it was a ‘genuine’ shoulder charge or not, you cannot deny it deserved 10 in the bin. Doorey was hit high. Doorey got up, played the ball out of muscle memory, then staggered around as a trainer tried to get him off the field.
The Bulldogs forward then failed his head injury assessment (HIA) and took no further part in the game.
You might detest the fact Talakai got punished at all for what was a spectacular piece of play, and that’s fair enough. We’ve all grown up with a game that showcased massive hits like that.
Hell, some players made a career of flying out of the line to put a shot on the ball carrier. It used to be open season, but things are different now.
If you want real proof of this, observe the sin binning of New Zealand Warriors player Josh Curran, sent to the pine for what was for a 99 per cent legal tackle that unfortunately made contact with the head of Melbourne Storm winger George Jennings.
“It’s been reviewed, contact has been made with the head and the shoulder,” referee Matt Cecchin said as he benched Curran.
That’s the key point. Curran went to the bin, George Jennings didn’t come back after failing his head injury assessment (HIA).
So it seems players are going to be punished for making head high contact, accidental or not. It won’t always be a deliberate dog shot, in fact on most occasions it’ll be a result of poor tackling technique or lazy defending.
This was among a few things Roosters coach Trent Robinson spoke on after hits on Josh Morris and James Tedesco during his club’s win over the Dragons.
Like many others, Robinson was rightly unimpressed with St George Illawarra winger Jordan Pereira’s high hit on Roosters fullback James Tedesco, a shocking effort which should have seen him sent off rather than just out for ten minutes.
Referee Ashley Klein and his bunker colleague Henry Perenara bottled the send off call – a baffling decision when you recall it was Klein who sent off Canterbury’s Jack Hetherington for a high shot last week.
“We don’t need the judiciary to teach them lessons,” Robinson said. “We need the on-field refs so that the mothers and the parents at home understand the punishment happens right then and there, right in the moment, not on Tuesday night – they don’t watch Tuesday night, the watch in the game.
“We’ve got to make sure we protect the brutality that our game’s played with and why people watch, but they need to get their lessons on-field about how to get down – how to get lower, get your tackle tech in a better position, because they’ll punish their team on that night.
“If you get down to 12 players versus 13 because you’re just a bit loose with your tackling and you’re copping guys hard and high, then they need to be down to twelve. That’s when we’ll get our real lessons, and that’s when we’ll get people knowing we’re serious about it.”
Pereira should be suspended for a long time, and you can expect his teammate Mikaele Ravalawa to cop a holiday too for a shoulder charge on Josh Morris.
Normally when we see a raft of sendoffs or sin bins there’s much wailing and gnashing of teeth about how the game has gone soft, the refs have lost the plot or some such. But it feels different this time.
People are more aware of the long term damage to players from head shots and the Australian Rugby League Commission is very aware of the risk to the game both financially and from a participation aspect. Dinosaur attitudes like Phil Gould’s ‘doctors and lawyers are killing the game’ garbage are slowly being overtaken by reality.
That’s why Australian Rugby League Commission Chair Peter V’landys was clear a couple of weeks ago that the game expected a strong reaction to foul play and high contact.
“We want to encourage the referee and the bunker to sin-bin and send off players for foul play, absolutely,” V’landys said at the time.
“We’ll encourage the referees to use the personnel and technology they have in the bunker, which is looking at injuries and concussions. We’ll speak to head of football Graham Annesley and if it’s foul play they should be sin binned, especially if it causes the player to be off the field for the rest of the game.
“We have the personnel up there, we have the technology and if there’s foul play, then there should be penalties, such as a sin bin or send off to introduce the 18th man.”
Will this new outlook from the NRL be consistent? Of course it won’t. Some players who get hit will bounce up and play on, others will be out for the afternoon and possibly longer from seemingly innocuous or accidental contact. Places like the Roar will rage with debate about the punishment of one hit over another.
NRL referees have long been reluctant to sin bin or send players off, no matter the offence. Some of the situations that had led to are a shocking look for a game trying to prove it is safe and ‘clean’ for juniors to get into.
So keep sending and sitting players until they learn not to hit the head. It’s a good step to forcing clubs and players to take a good look at how they attack the ball carrier to protect them and themselves.